Review: Perspectives on Paul

Perspectives on Paul: Five Views, Edited by Scot McKnight and B.J. Oropeza. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Summary: Presents five perspectives on the ministry and message of Paul: the Catholic, traditional Protestant, the “New Perspective” pioneered by E.P. Sanders, the Paul within Judaism perspective, and the Gift perspective.

Beginning with the work of E. P. Sanders and those who followed him, there has been an explosion of Pauline scholarship, often some version of “perspective” on Paul. The editors of this volume offer a brief overview of the recent scholarship in introducing the five perspectives in this volume:

  1. The Roman Catholic Perspective. Brad Pitre, affirming the New Perspective contribution to understanding Second Temple Judaism’s covenantal nomism, contends that the Catholic view of faith and works has strong resonances with the New Perspective, which for him is not that new.
  2. The Protestant Perspective. A. Andrew Das sets forth the traditional Protestant perspective on justification by grace alone with works as a response to being saved. He also recognizes that the New Perspective gives the lie to stereotypic faith vs. work caricatures.
  3. The New Perspective. James D. G. Dunn offers a restatement of the New Perspective, valuable because it may be one of the last pieces of writing from this scholar before his death in June of 2020, particularly affirming Paul’s theology of justification that crossed cultural boundaries.
  4. Paul within Judaism. This perspective, discussed by Magnus Zetterholm, takes the Second Temple Judaism of Paul further and insists that Paul never left Judaism or its practices, while teaching non-Jews to live consistently with Judaism while respecting their Gentile identity.
  5. The Gift Perspective. John Barclay contributes perhaps the newest perspective, one that sees the gift of Christ, his grace as making sense of the promises to Abraham, the experience of the Spirit, and the oneness of God.

Each of the contributors respond to others with a concluding response from each contributor. What is striking (perhaps apart from A. Andrew Das’ response to the Catholic perspective), was that this wasn’t one versus the others, but each in conversation with the others. It was striking the widely shared consensus on the New Perspective, particularly in its shattering of stereotypes of Judaism that lead to anti-Semitism. More clearly we see the Paul who is a product of second temple Judaism as well as apostle to the Gentiles. James D. G. Dunn candidly admitted his lack of reading of the early fathers in conversation with Brad Pitre. In addition to the irenic character of the conversation, one sensed a convergence of perspectives. Not that there was total agreement, particularly in the nuances. But one had the sense of scholars at different vantage points considering the same object, Paul, and gaining a fuller perspective from the perspectives of each.

This, to me, represented the best of theologians from different perspectives in conversation. In addition, between the editors’ introduction and the interactions around each perspective, this book is a good introduction to recent Pauline scholarship in a single volume, drawing upon the very best from each perspective. Dennis Edwards adds a concluding essay considering the pastoral relevance of the discussion. This is one of the very best “perspectives” books I’ve encountered.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Death of a Peer (Surfeit of Lampreys)

Death of a Peer (Surfeit of Lampreys), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Harper Collins: New York, 2009.

Summary: A New Zealander’s visit to a happy-go-lucky English family is interrupted by the gruesome murder of Lord Charles’ brother in the elevator serving their flat, making the family prime suspects for Scotland Yard detective Roderick Alleyn

Ngaio Marsh, along with Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Margerie Allingham, was one of the crime queens of the golden age of British crime fiction. She wrote a total of 32 Roderick Alleyn mysteries. This one is a special treat, both because of the unusual family, and connected characters, most of whom are possible suspects in a murder.

Death of a Peer is narrated largely through the eyes of a young girl from New Zealand, Roberta “Robin” Grey, who met the family, the Lampreys, while they tried their hands at becoming New Zealand landowners. Even then, what stands out is that this fun-loving family never really seems to apply itself to anything, is always in financial straits, and never takes this too seriously. After they returned to London, Robin is invited to stay with an aunt, but due to the aunt’s health, first stays with the Lampreys. Oh, what fun–especially with the eldest son Henry, to whom she is drawn.

Maybe not so much. Once again the Lampreys are up to their ears in debt and being hounded by debt collectors. Lord Charles, the head of the family hopes to get a bailout from his older brother, Gabriel, Marquis of Wutherwood and Rune. Uncle Gabriel and his wife, Aunt V. agree to a visit. Aunt V. is a witch and an eccentric, mentally unstable character. While Aunt V. visits with the women, the children listen in the next room as Uncle G. refuses the loan and the two brothers exchange harsh words. He leaves, sits down in the lift awaiting his wife, calls out to her twice, then they depart, helped by one of the twins.

Robin hears all this and then a loud shrieking as the lift comes back to the third floor. The doors open, Aunt V staggers out, beside herself, and the family sees a slumped over Uncle G., dying of fatal and gruesome wound from a skewer, earlier used in a skit put on by the children.

Enter Roderick Alleyn, whose challenge is made more difficult by this family who presents a united front. The identical twins, Colin and Stephen will not reveal which of them went to the elevator. Lord Charles stands to inherit, but the whole family has an interest. None of them, including the charming Henry holds down a job. Most helpful to Alleyn are the young child Michael and Robin, in her memory of the movements of various people, including Baskett, the butler, Giggles, the chauffer, and Tinkerton, Aunt V.’s attendant. This is despite her lie about the outcome of the meeting between Lord Charles and Gabriel.

This has it all, including an edge-of-the-seat ending, intricate plot, fascinating unusual characters, and the modest Alleyn who patiently works to connect all the dots. These books have been out of print (my copy was an old paperback literally falling apart) but have recently come on the market as e-books. Each of the “crime queens” have their own style. If you like this period, be sure to try out Ngaio Marsh. This one is a good place to start.

Faithless Fears

Photo by Wayne Fotografias on Pexels.com

I’ve watched friends go down dark corridors of fear and suspicion. You likely know people like this as well. I don’t need to talk about the issues and have no interest in the arguments. I’ve seen them all. And weighed them, as likely you have. I wonder, though, why some go down these dark corridors.

I’ve been thinking about the fear and suspicion that seems to run through many narratives. Now, I don’t absolutely dismiss fear and suspicion. Every time I open email or hear the phone ring, I exercise a certain amount of suspicion. When someone asks me to “verify” my account I am suspicious. When someone calls demanding payment for a tax bill via a gift card, I’m suspicious. While I am not afraid to die, I have a healthy respect for COVID, having known friends who died or got very sick from the virus. Insofar as I can avoid it, I don’t want to find out which side of the probabilities I would end up on.

Andy Crouch, in a book called Culture-Making makes a distinction between gestures and postures. Gestures are situationally determined. Postures are hardened, fixed ways of carrying ourselves. In a fallen world, suspicion and fear are warranted gestures in particular situations. Being suspicious of a telemarketer makes sense. Being suspicious of friends and associates, people of a certain descent or political affiliation, just because of that origin or affiliation suggests a gesture becoming a posture.

Some signs of a fearful or suspicious outlook becoming a posture:

  • You spend significant amounts of your time online surfing websites providing information confirming your suspicions. Then you re-post them to your “friends.”
  • You have limited your news sources in the same way, dismissing any differing accounts, no matter the reputability of the news organization as “fake.”
  • Your conversations have increasingly focused on the things about which you are suspicious.
  • You notice that many of your friends, apart from those sharing the same suspicions, are avoiding you or try to get out of conversations with you as soon as they can.

Some of us by disposition or life experience may be more prone to hardening into postures of fear and suspicion. Perhaps the best thing we might do is suspect ourselves more and others less in these cases. And get help!

The truth is we were not made for this. We were made for love and trust, and fear and suspicion are a distortion, a twisting of the good intent of God. In the Genesis account God places the man and woman in a garden that provides for their every need. Amid all this abundance, God has forbidden eating from a single tree. Why would God do this? Most theologians think that this one prohibition made loving and trusting God a choice, and thus meaningful. If there were no other choice but to love and trust God, what would these words mean?

It is this trust that the serpent attacked (by the way, never trust a talking serpent!). The serpent asks, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” What’s going on here? In addition to distorting the truth (it was one tree, not any tree) the serpent’s question is designed to cast doubt on God, to undermine trust, and ultimately their relation of love. It insinuates the suspicion that God is not really good, and not to be trusted. Then the serpent says, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This deepens the suspicion. God is holding them back. Even though they already are in the image of God, the serpent suggests God doesn’t want them to be like him.

What it comes down to is that God made us to love and trust and enjoy God forever–and each other. When the couple give in to their suspicions, it goes wrong all around. Suspicion is not of God. We were made to live in a posture of love and trust. The apostle Paul extends this to our relationships with each other: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). This does not mean in a fallen world that we close our eyes to evil. But our default is a focus on truth rather than one on evil. John the apostle speaks about how “perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4:18). For lovers of God and followers of Christ, our default posture is one of love and trust, not fear and suspicion.

This does not mean people will not betray our trust. Even Jesus was betrayed. But his last act with Judas was to offer him food, a mark of honor and affection. Far more often, I find that when we believe the best of others, many try to live up to that belief. Flowing from this, those whose narrative is one of fear and suspicion send up red flags for me, no matter what they are purporting. I’m not going to live that way. That’s not what we’re made for.

The title for this post comes from a phrase in a prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (2019):

FOR TRUSTFULNESS IN TIMES OF WORRY AND ANXIETY

Most loving Father, you will us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on the One who cares for us. Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested unto us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is where I want to live, as long as I live, in the place of “trustfulness,” “in the light of that love which is immortal.”


Review: Bavinck: A Critical Biography

Bavinck: A Critical Biography, James Eglinton. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Summary: A biography tracing the origins, significant life events and theological scholarship of Dutch neo-Calvinist theologian Herman Bavinck.

Interest has grown in recent years in the life and work of Herman Bavinck. In 2008, the four volumes of his Reformed Dogmatics, published in Dutch in 1905 was finally published in English translation. It became more widely apparent that Bavinck was one of the most significant theological minds of the 20th century. The arrival of James Eglinton’s Bavinck: A Critical Biography only enhances our understanding of this key theological figure.

Eglinton begins with Bavinck’s family of origin, so significant in the shape of his career and thought. His father, Jan, was part of the group of those who seceded from the Dutch Reformed Church in 1834, pastoring a seceding churches, facing the opprobrium of the first generation, and preceding Herman in teaching at the Theological School at Kampen.

Yet in the education of Herman, his parents avoided the parochial bubble, a temptation with a group seceding to affirm doctrinal orthodoxy. It began in sending Herman to the gymnasium at Zwolle. Then after a year at Kampen, Herman got permission to study at the much more “modern” Leiden. It reflected an early sense on the part of Herman of wanting to preach and teach a neo-Calvinism at once orthodox and engaging the modern and scientific currents in the wider society. He completed in 1880 his thesis under two of Leiden’s leading lights, Scholten and Kuenen, although still formally recognized as a student at Kampen. Many cast aspersions on Bavinck’s bona fides yet he passed his ordination exams and received a call to a large congregation in Franeker that grew during his year as pastor.

A year later, in 1882 he joined the faculty at Kampen, along with his rival Lucas Lindeboom. Lindeboom challenged his efforts to do reformed theology in a modern context, and his increasing efforts with Abraham Kuyper to realize a Reformed vision in Dutch society. During this period, Bavinck refuses several attempts to recruit him to Kuyper’s Free University. Eglinton explores the tension between Bavinck’s loyalty to the Christian Reformed Church and his scholarly ambitions. Eventually, as Lindeboom’s forces pushed him and a colleague out, he was able to complete his migration to the Free University, succeeding Abraham Kuyper in the chair of theology at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1902.

Even before this, with diminished teaching loads, Bavinck was able to realize his scholarly work of a theological work that reflected his vision, the Reformed Dogmatics, as well as scholarly articles, and an unfinished Reformed Ethics (currently being translated into English). Eglinton also digs into his view of scripture. One one hand he affirmed a high commitment to the divine inspiration and authority of scripture. At the same time, his understanding of this fully divine and fully human document also raised doubts for him that two of his students took further to the detriment of their careers.

The Amsterdam period reflected a broadening out of his influence as he brought theological principles to bear in the spheres of education, psychology, and politics. He served briefly as party leader during Kuyper’s absence and was elected to the first chamber of the Dutch government. In 1908, he is honored in America with a meeting with Teddy Roosevelt and the invitation to give the Stone Lectures. His insights on America both during this and his earlier visits make interesting reading. The text of his account of his first visit is included as an appendix.

One of the interesting aspects of Bavinck’s life was his marriage to Johanna. She was a strong partner who probably both encouraged and extended Bavinck’s efforts to recognize the rights and roles of women in society. Most of her children engaged in resistance against Hitler, a number at the cost of their lives. She wasn’t his first choice. He kept a flame for a number of years for Amelia den Dekker but was refused by her father and rebuffed by her. My sense is that Johanna was the better partner.

This is an outstanding biography. Having read a bit of Bavinck, I wondered about the readability of this work. My wonderings were unfounded. One encounters at once both an extensively researched and flowing narrative of Bavinck’s life. If you are interested in exploring the work of this theologian, Eglinton’s Bavinck is a great place to begin.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Center Street Crossing

Center Street Bridge and Crossing with the B & O Train Director’s shed. Photo from Bridgehunter licensed under CC BY-SA

Did you know that at one time the crossing pictured above was the busiest manually operated crossing in the United States? As you can see, there are a number of tracks that cross each other. At one time there were eleven different tracks serving five different railroads that squeezed together and crossed each other on the north bank of the Mahoning River just west of the Center Street Bridge, with Republic Steel’s mills in the backdrop. All told, 500 trains pulling 10,000 cars a day passed through this crossing, serving the mills and the other industries of the Mahoning Valley as well as passenger trains.

Four of the railroads used the north bank of the Mahoning as they approached this point. The fifth, the B & O started out on the south bank of the Mahoning and a few hundred yards west of the Center Street Bridge crosses the river and the other lines to the far side of the north bank, furthest from the river. As you can see, that literally is a trainwreck waiting to happen, were it not for the train director.

The train director stayed in the little bungalow-like one story shed in the center of the above picture. It was warmed by a caboose stove. He worked for the B & O, the ones responsible for the crossing, and his job was to manually signal trains when it was safe to proceed. In railroad vernacular, this was a color-coded “highball.” Here are the railroads and their signal color:

  • Baltimore & Ohio (B & O): green
  • Erie: red
  • Pennsylvania: yellow
  • New York Central and P&LE (which shared the same tracks): white

They used flag signals by day and lanterns by night.

The mills are all gone now. The old Center Street Bridge, a truss bridge connecting Poland Avenue on the south and Wilson Avenue on the north, has been replaced with a new bridge. There are fewer tracks. The crossing, now with electric signals still exists as is evident from this Google Earth Image, looking west from the bridge. The old train director’s shack is gone. But the vestiges remain and remind us that there was a day when this was the busiest crossing in the country, all manually operated.

[The idea and some of the information for this post came from former Youngstown resident, William Duffy. Bill was a former B & O yard director, later working at the B & O freight office at Front and Market Streets. I also found helpful information in The Sentinal Volume 37, Number 4, published by The Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad Historical Society.]

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: How to Think Like Shakespeare

How to Think Like Shakespeare, Scott Newstok. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020.

Summary: A concise and engaging guide to the habits and practices of mind that enable clarity of thought, expression, and learning.

“I have not read very much Shakespeare in my adult life. Will this book make much sense to me?” In an email exchange with the author who asked me to consider reviewing this book, I asked this, seeing the title of the book. The author assured me that wouldn’t be a problem.

Here’s why. What this book is really about is education’s purpose. He writes:

“My conviction is that education must be about thinking—not training a set of specific skills.

Education isn’t merely accumulating data: machines can memorize far more, and far less fallibly, than humans. (Albert Einstein: The value of an education…is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.)

Scott Newstok, p. .ix

So where does Shakespeare come in? Newstok, an English professor and founder of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College draws on Shakespeare to identify the formative habits and practices that are evident in Shakespeare’s work and helped shape his particular genius. And then he draws on others from antiquity to the present day to make the case for thirteen aspects of learning to think well.

Newstok begins two introductory chapters on the hard work of thinking and the ends of study. He proposes that the formative practices of Shakespeare were very different than the current practices of our schools. He had classes in Latin, had to submit to a variety of writing exercises, copied out quotations, imitated other writers until he found his voice, and so forth. In the chapter on ends, he proposes that modern education focuses far too much on means and not on the ends of forming people who speak and do well, who are useful citizens who can think well about every aspect of life

The next twelve chapters focus on a particular aspect or habit of thought and expression:

  • Craft: The ability and power to work with raw materials to create a work. Shakespeare was a playwright; the etymology suggest dramas wrought with words.
  • Fit: Whether the glove on the hand, two pieces of wood joined, or the apt word or phrase.
  • Place: Learning and careful thought arises in thinking spaces, whether Shakespeare’s school or a classroom.
  • Attention: Often in his plays, Shakespeare’s characters are distracted. Newstok focuses on how learning, thought, prayer, and our best selves emerge from attention.
  • Technology: Writing in the sand, or with any other technology. Do we get distracted by the sand or attend to the writing, the message of which abides when the marks in the sand disappear?
  • Imitation: Art begins with imitation. Shakespeare borrowed all over the place until he came to sound like himself.
  • Exercises: One cannot write well unless one writes…and writes…and writes. Exercises, from imagining oneself in a different gender or station in life, or finding the myriad ways to express a thought all hone the gifts of expressing our thoughts.
  • Conversation: Newstok shares the fascinating image of Kenneth Burke of joining a conversation in process, learning the topic, and issues at hand, putting in our own thoughts, learning to question and explore the ideas of others, and then leaving the conversation to others as an image of the intellectual conversation that has run through history.
  • Stock: The wide reading that offers a store of ideas from which we assemble thought in creative new ways.
  • Constraint: Thought and expression works within the constraints of words, sentences, grammar and forms, such as the sonnet, and liberty is found within the bounds of our art.
  • Making: We not only make things with machines but also with words, and often in these words, we make ourselves.
  • Freedom: Not just freedom from but freedom to. At the heart of the “liberal arts” is to practice the craft of freedom.

Newstok concludes with a reading list, “Kinsmen of the Shelf” for going further in the practices of good thought, connected to each chapter of the book. I was reminded of some old friends and learned of some intriguing new ones.

This sounds like a serious book but Newstok treats serious matters with an artisan’s lightness of touch. The chapters are short, filled with quotes that will offer additions to your own commonplace book, and introduced by fitting artwork. It is a work worthy of attention by educators, whether in the liberal arts or not. Our present time underscores the vital need for education to be far more than the inculcation of information. Otherwise, in the words of Stephen Muller, former president of Johns Hopkins University, we are just turning out “highly skilled barbarians.” It is also a book that may be read reflectively and repeatedly for any of us who care deeply about the work of thinking and writing. We all have a long way to go in our craft.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved The Monarchy

Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy, A. N. Wilson. New York: Harper Collins, 2019.

Summary: A full length biography, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, stressing his contributions to cultural and political life in Victorian England, published on the two hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Most of us, at least on “this side of the pond” mostly know of Prince Albert as the subject of a prank beginning with the line “do you have Prince Albert in a can?” Actually, in reading this biography, the prank has added irony both in that its subject was a very serious man, and that for one who died so young, he accomplished so much. A. N. Wilson’s biography, published on the two hundredth anniversary of Albert’s birth goes far to redress that unfamiliarity.

Wilson presents Albert as the son of a Coburg Duke (Ernst I), who failed at marriage but was determined to prepare his sons for dynastic greatness. Albert learned not only the lessons that prepared him for this station, but also shaped the strong sense of rectitude he brought to his eventual marriage with Victoria, a Coburg cousin who was in most direct succession to William IV. He also develops the influence of Stockmar, Albert’s mentor from his early teen years through the first decade of his marriage.

Wilson portrays the genuine love affair between Albert and Victoria, initially cool to him but warming to great passion, and the lukewarm reception of Commons, reducing his proposed annual grant. At the same time, Wilson teases out the complicated character of that marriage, of Albert’s quest for control, even influence over royal matters, and how Victoria’s nine pregnancies played into all of that. At very least, the two contributed to the great influence of the House of Coburg in dynastic affairs across Europe through their progeny!

Much of the account explores the struggle Albert had with his position–for most of the time, merely husband of the Queen, and only at the end of his life Prince Consort. His own son was ahead of him in precedence. He aspired to so much more, trying to shape foreign affairs through long missives to foreign secretaries, as well as weighing in on political matters. Over time, he helped shape Victoria’s approach to constitutional monarchy that sustained her popularity, and that of the monarchy long after her death. He shrewdly managed royal finances, allowing for the purchase of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

One of his distinctive contributions was as Chancellor of Cambridge University, overseeing the modernization of the curriculum stressing modern history and the sciences. Another was the Exhibition of 1851 and the develop of the complex of museums in Kensington known as “Albertopolis,” later complimented by Royal Albert Hall, a premier concert venue. Wilson portrays the intensity of Albert’s work ethic for his adopted country, recognized only late in his short life when, finally, he was designated “Prince Consort.”

There is an air of sadness that hovers over this hard-working man of rectitude. He found himself worn by the moods of Victoria, the troubles of Europe, and the evidence of profligacy on the part of his own son Bertie. Sadly, he was a seriously ill man, possibly dying of stomach cancer. Perhaps he pushed himself so hard, knowing his time was so short. It was sad that he could not bask in his considerable contributions to the monarchy and England.

Wilson not only portrays the man, but the various key figures like Peel and Palmerston, and the transformation occurring in England, to which Albert had contributed. Of course, all of this was in the backdrop of Victoria, who went on to reign for four decades after Albert’s death at age 42, in the end showing herself stronger even than Albert. This is an important account of a figure whose impact is still felt two hundred years after his birth.

Review: Prayer Revolution

Prayer Revolution, John Smed. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2020.

Summary: A call to kingdom prayer movements based in houses of prayer through which Christ comes, the Holy Spirit advances, and renewal spreads in cities, nations, and globally.

I write this review amid a global pandemic with accelerating case numbers and deaths and in a nation in the middle of efforts to violently subvert the constitutionally governed processes of presidential succession. If ever there was a time for a prayer movement, it seems now would be a good time.

John Smed would agree. He believes we are in a world desperately in need of a prayer revolution, and having led prayer movements, he lays out in this book a biblical basis for prayer movements, how prayer movements break out and how they break through to bring renewal to church, city, and nation. Jesus is central to his focus as the risen King who comes to his people as they seek his kingdom in prayer. He writes as one who has prayed what he preaches. He writes:

Immersing myself in the prayer practices of Jesus, my prayer life changed. Praying like Jesus became a discipline and a habit. Like Jesus praying all night before choosing His disciples, before major decisions and crossroads, I take seasons and days of prayer. Our team does not make plans, we make prayer plans–meeting regularly for interactive times of prayer and planning. We have learned to face the ever-present onslaught of electronic noise and busyness by waiting on God.

Smed begins by laying a basis for kingdom prayer movements by talking about how the king comes as his people pray. The Lord’s prayer shows the Lord’s strategy for prayer–focused outward on kingdom advance rather than inwardly. He wants to work through “houses of prayer.”

This kind of prayer breaks out. The ascended Lord hears his people throughout the world as they gain a vision for renewal. This leads to advance through the work of the Spirit who empowers the church in multiplying ministry. That can scale to a global movement and to the renewal of our cities.

Ultimately, kingdom prayer breaks through. It brings national renewal and repentance from idols. In scripture it has sustained exiles, and those present day “political exiles.” Churches are revived and cities renewed.

Appended to this work is a ten step description of how to implement kingdom prayer, a prayer grid using the Lord’s prayer, and a prayer exercise that may be used for praying for nation or city. Also, the author includes stories of kingdom advance through prayer in history from the Moravian movement, the Welsh revival, the Fulton Street awakening, and the prayer movement in Cuba.

What is puzzling to me in our present moment is that there are professing Christians who have joined in violence, others who are making statements of all sorts. Most of us are just “doomscrolling” through endless stories on our phones that make us sadder or angrier. We are watching bodies stacking up massively while we argue with instead of submitting to sensible public health mandates. Where is our urgency in prayer? Where is repentance? Where is pleading for the peace of our cities and for the inbreaking of the just rule of Jesus?

Prayer Revolution is that call to prayer. It is a book that offers hope of what God may do and vision for how we as God’s people may pray. It’s a book for our time. Many times in history prayer movements break out in desperate times. And God hears. How desperate must things get before we pray?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Charitable Writing

Charitable Writing, Richard Hughes Gibson and James Edward Beitler III, Foreword by Anne Ruggles Gere, Afterword by Alan Jacobs. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: Two writing professors explore how Christian faith ought shape both how one writes and how one teaches students to write, shaped by the virtues of humility, love, and hope.

When many of us think of writing in our present time, we think of contentious writing, angry writing, divisive writing. Whether in academic discourse of a scroll through your social media feed, one doesn’t have to go far to find examples of a “scorched earth” approach to writing. Charitable writing? Not so much.

Actually, the authors of this work only have this indirectly in mind. As writing professors at a Christian college, they realized that their approach to writing wasn’t any different than when they had taught in secular settings. If as Christians your aspiration is “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17), then what might this look like in both the practice of writing, and the teaching of students to write? It is a question about which I think. This is the question out of which this book arose.

The authors propose that virtuous actions manifesting charity ought to shape our writing. They organize the book around three threshold virtues or concepts: humble listening, loving argument and hopeful time keeping. They devote several chapters to each of these ideas. One of the striking features of this book is that they explore these ideas through visual art as well as their own writing.

Humility begins in humbling oneself before God in prayer as one enters one’s study or workspace to write. Humility is the openness to God and denial of self of Mary at the annunciation. Other images point toward humility as an abiding virtue of writing. The authors go on to discuss humility in writing communities, including writing classes, and in discourse communities, where humility means careful listening to the community and attentive use of that community’s language as one communicates.

They turn to loving argument, beginning with a painting of Augustine symbolizing the triangle of head, heart, and tradition or logos, pathos, and ethos in writing. They explore our metaphors for argument, mostly warlike, explaining both our aversion to argument and why they often end badly. They propose different metaphors. One metaphor is the table, a place of hospitality, a feast together. We can share the meal with generous care for each other or we can feast in a “beastly” fashion, where we seek to get ours at the expense of others. Do we make space for the writing of others at our table?

Finally Gibson and Beitler talk about keeping time hopefully. One aspect of this is writing slowly. As others have observed, there is no good writing, only good re-writing. They walk us through pre-writing, drafting, and revising. Writing is an exercise in hope as one engages the slow, patient work involved. Slow writing allows others to join in, helping with revisions and edits, making our ideas better. But writing in hope also incorporates “liturgies” that invite God in, to inform our writing and to point it toward his telos for life.

As they draw to conclusion, we are reminded that these virtues are social virtues. Writing is social and not solitary. Charitable writing reaches out, it converses and disputes, it holds, embraces and releases. Writing in this way reminds us of our call as disciples to love God and each other, even when we argue. As bonuses this book offers an afterword by Alan Jacobs, a guide to discussion with writing prompts, an essay on teaching charitable writing, and one on the spiritual discipline of writing.

I deeply appreciated this book. For someone who never thought of himself as a writer, I’ve done quite a bit of it in the past decade. It can be hard and humbling and drive you to prayer as you look for the words to get past a block. To send one’s ideas out to others invites both community and criticism. Most of the time I’ve written with great love, and sometimes unlovingly. One writes with hope that your words will connect with others, that long deliberated ideas will give encouragement and light to others. If nothing else, writing changes us, and hopefully for the better. Gibson and Beitler show us how that may be so, to the end of loving God and others.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Frozen in Time

Frozen in Time, Mitchell Zuckoff. New York: HarperCollins, 2014.

Summary: An account of rescue efforts in 1942-43 and a retrieval effort in 2012 to recover several lost heroes, all occurring on the Greenland icecap.

In November of 1942, a C-53 cargo plane took off from Iceland to an airfield on the west side of Greenland. For unknown reasons it crashed inland from the eastern coast of Greenland. A B-17 diverted from transport to England joined the search with a crew of nine, captained by Armand Monteverde. Unsuccessful, they ran into a bad snowstorm that was like “flying in milk.” They also crashed, the plane splitting into two pieces. All nine survived the crash and much of the narrative in this book describes their efforts to survive in subzero temperatures, avoiding life-ending crevasses and fighting frostbite and keeping up hope as months went by with little more contact than overflights by another B-17, piloted by “Pappy” Turner, dropping supplies and communicating with the survivors.

Part of the 1942-43 story concerned the efforts to rescue these men either by plane or motor- or dogsled. Sadly, rescuers, both by plane and motorsled died, as did one of the B-17 crash survivors. Three of those who died were on a Coast Guard plane called “The Flying Duck” piloted by John Pritchard and Benjamin Bottoms. They rescued two crash survivors, one who was most severely affected by frostbite. Coming back, they picked up another survivor. Loren Howarth, who had repaired a radio on the crashed B-17. They, too, encountered a fast approaching storm and went down with no survivors.

Here enters the other part of this story. Lou Sapienza, who had participated in previous recovery missions learned the story about the lost men from the Flying Duck. On a preliminary survey in 2010, they identified possible crash sites. Now, he wants to go back. He needs the help of the Coast Guard and a lot of money the Pentagon doesn’t have. He enlists the author to chronicle (and help bankroll) the effort. Offsetting a reluctant bureaucracy is Coast Guard Commander Jim Blow, whose passion is not to leave those missing in action behind. Somehow, they come up with enough for a week on the Greenland ice cap.

So much of what sustains interest in this narrative, which goes back and forth between the rescue and recovery missions, is the uncertainty that they will find a way to rescue the B-17 survivors or recover the Flying Duck and her crew. The big challenge is Greenland itself. There are so many ways it can kill you from crevasses to polar bears to cold. For the surviving crew, the challenge was crash injuries, advancing frostbite, and morale. One is impressed in all the ways this crew improvised shelter, jury-rigged radios, and used what they had on hand. The recovery mission led by Jim and Lou had its own challenges. Faulty GPS coordinates, moving heavy equipment across crevasses, and conflict within the expedition pose challenges, even as they scramble to locate the Flying Duck as another of Greenland’s storms approach, necessitating evacuation.

Zuckoff’s eyewitness narrative coupled with careful historical research makes for a riveting account of the effort to “bring them home” that is a heartbeat of the services. The efforts to survive, to rescue, and to recover are all heroic. In a day when so many public figures disappoint, a narrative about heroes, who have their own struggles, but transcend and work and risk for noble ends, is a welcome gift.